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L’Shanah Tova! The High Holidays 5779

Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year) refers to the celebration of the Jewish New Year. In 2018, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sunday, September 9th. The first day of Rosh Hashanah always falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. This Rosh Hashanah, we will enter the year 5779 of the Hebrew calendar.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the world and mark the start of a new year, we think about our own renewal. The blast of the shofar, a ram’s horn, awakens us, a reminder that the chance to make a fresh start in the coming months begins with introspection and repentance. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) refers to the annual Jewish observance of fasting, prayer, and repentance. It is considered to be the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. This year, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Tuesday, September 18th.

The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Yamim Noraim (pronounced yah-MEEM noe-rah-EEM), meaning the Days of Awe or the High Holy Days. During this period we focus on self-reflection and the powerful Jewish practice of T’shuvah (pronounced tuh-SHOO-vah) (return). We offer apologies to others and to God for the wrongs we have done, and also vow to do better in the New Year. Tradition uses the imagery of a Book of Life, teaching that God writes our decree for the year to come on Rosh Hashanah and seals it on Yom Kippur. Hence, the common greeting for the High Holidays of “G’mar hatimah tovah,” (pronounced guh-MAHR khah-tee-MAH toe-VAH) meaning, “May you be inscribed for a good [year].”

According to the Talmud, we should go through life imagining our good deeds and our flaws on opposite sides of a perfectly balanced scale. Thus every new moment brings with it the opportunity to do good and tip the scale toward our merits. The High Holidays create a space for us to set our intentions for the coming months, and to work towards being our best selves.

High Holiday Customs
There are many traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—most with multiple meanings behind them.

Common Greetings

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Fun Facts:
Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” draws on the Unetanah Tokef, which many consider the most important prayer in the High Holiday liturgy. Avinu Malkeinu, the prayer that means “Our Father, Our King,” has been covered by the jam band Phish and inspired Mogwai, a Scottish post-rock-trio, to write a 20-minute epic song “My Father, My King,” which borrows the prayer’s traditional melody, is alternately soft and beautiful and loud and raging.

To learn more about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, please visit ReformJudaism.org and MyJewishLearning.com. Both were used as resources for this guide.

A huge thank you goes out to the RSS Parents Association, which gives holiday guides such as this one to families at Rodeph Sholom School as a way to educate the community and provide tools to promote Jewish practice with their children at home.

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